Mental health has been top of the news agenda in recent weeks thanks to high profile people, including Prince Harry and Lady Gaga, speaking out about their own experiences. Mental illness doesn't discriminate and it can happen to anyone. One in four people live with a mental health problem every year, and my mum was one of them.
Our mum, Stacey, had bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterised by episodes of both mania and devastating depression. She died as a result of her illness when she was just 34 years old, when my brothers and I were aged between 11 and 16. She became so deeply depressed that she just hid away, and physically ran away a few times. One of those times, she never returned. She was found nearly two weeks after she went missing, and our lives were changed forever.
I am now also 34 years old, and have now surpassed her in age, which is so bizarre. So many milestones in my own life, and the lives of my brothers, have been marked by her absence. I had my first child nearly four years ago, and going through pregnancy and the early days of motherhood without her by my side just felt wrong; as if I could not be a proper mum without my own to guide me.
I am in equal parts grateful for all of the wonderful things she taught me and the skills she passed to me, and angry that she is no longer here and has missed so much of our lives. Graduations, first homes, engagements, weddings and her own grandchildren are all things she should have been able to share with us.
But I am not angry at her. At the treatment she received? Yes. At the people around her who could have and should have done more to help her? Yes. At the general stigma around mental illness, which most likely meant a lot of people just didn't know how to help her? Yes. But above all, I'm angry at this bloody insidious illness, at both bipolar disorder and depression, which took our mum over long before she died.
While so many memories of our wonderful mum are wrapped up with memories of her illness, we still spend a lot of time together reminiscing about the fun times we had with her. The daytrips to Knebworth and Walton-on-the-Naize, with her always dragging an impossibly large cool-box full of sandwiches, the games of rounders we had with her and all the kids in our street in the field that our house backed on to, and her bouncing on the bouncy castle at the birthday parties we had in the back garden.
I am very conscious that, as the eldest of my siblings, I was so lucky to have more time with her before she became ill, whereas my younger brothers' memories of her are more dominated by her illness. So, we talk about her often, always celebrate her birthday and try to celebrate her generally as much as we can.
About six years ago, my brothers and I started running a comedy event in her memory as it seemed like a fitting way to honour her and help us to focus on the happier times, while at the same time raise some money and awareness for mental health.
Comedy for Depression started as a much smaller affair (and was originally the brainchild of another Depression Alliance supporter), but we have grown it into a successful annual event, raising funds to better support the one in six of us who live with depression in their lifetime. It's been a real honour to support people in similar situations to our mum, whilst coming together as a family to put on a great night of live comedy. We know for sure that Mum would love this event, and it's great to be able to raise money for Friends in Need - a service Mind runs following the merger with Depression Alliance last year.
We're so grateful for the amazing support shown by everyone who has bought tickets, the many who return year after year, and to the incredible comedians who have generously donated their time.
Tickets for this year's event are now on sale. A host of comedians will come together for a night of live comedy to raise money and awareness for mental health. With Tom Allen as compere, Felicity Ward, Elliot Steel, and Luisa Omielan will take to the stage alongside Alistair Williams, John Robertson and Jonny Pelham. Comedy for Depression 2017 will take place at London's iconic Union Chapel in Islington on Thursday 4 May 2017.
One in six people will experience depression during their lifetime and it is now, sadly, the leading cause of disability worldwide. Money raised by Comedy for Depression will go to Mind's Friends in Need project, a free and supportive community for everyone affected by depression, so they don't have to go through it alone. People can find new friends in their local area and online, so they will always have a safe and friendly space when they need it most.
Mind does absolutely fantastic work and we are proud to help raise money for the Friends in Need project. I know from my family's experiences how vitally important it is to have loving and supportive people around you so we're looking forward to helping Mind be there for the one in four people who live with a mental health problem each year.
Tickets are now on sale at £16 (or £12 for students or those who are unemployed) comedyfordepression.com
For more information about bipolar disorder and for support for mental health problems see mind.org.uk